FORT LAUDERDALE — If you could wave a magic wand, what will people be talking about at CruiseWorld three years from now?
That was the question asked by Northstar Travel Group senior vice president of marketing Mary Pat Sullivan to a panel of cruise line sales executives during the Masterminds session at CruiseWorld 2022.
The answer from Katina Athanasiou, Silversea’s senior vice president of sales, elicited an ovation from the audience of travel advisors. “We’ll be talking about the travel advisor as a necessity, like we do tax advisors and financial advisors,” she said.
Perhaps the magic wand won’t be necessary. According to an ASTA consumer survey earlier this year, more travelers have grown to see the value of travel advisors because the pandemic made travel too complex to tackle without an expert. Forty-five percent of survey respondents agreed that using an advisor would put their minds at ease, and 43% were more likely to use a travel advisor than they were before the pandemic.
For Athanasiou, it makes all the sense in the world.
“We would never leave our money to people who aren’t certified, we would never buy insurance from people who don’t know what they’re talking about,” she said. “Three years from now, I want to sit on the stage and talk about how the value of the travel advisor has become mainstream in this country, that you can’t travel without one.”
Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity Cruises’ senior vice president of sales for the Americas, said that clients “want a third-party endorsement more than ever.”
She pointed out that the cruise companies are in the middle of a building boom, which gives travel advisors more to sell and more opportunities to make money. It also gives advisors the opportunity to be experts, knowing the ships and their customers well, so they can match the right product for their customer.
“People are going to buy travel from you because they trust you, and they think you know what you’re doing. It’s as simple as that,” Ritzenthaler told the audience.
Travel advisors are crucial in putting new cruise customers on ships, said Janet Wygert, Carnival Cruise Line’s vice president of strategic partnerships. She said the industry hasn’t truly tapped into the market of customers who have vacationed at resorts but have yet to take a cruise.
“There’s so much innovation on cruise ships, there’s so much to offer to your guests,” Wygert said. “All of us want new-to-cruise guests. It’s up to you to make that happen.”
Princess Cruises’ vice president of sales Carmen Roig said travel advisors will always play a critical role in filling ships. She recounted conversations she’s had with her mentor, former Carnival Cruise Line CEO Bob Dickinson. Roig said she still talked with Dickinson regularly.
She recalled that when some sounded the death knell for travel advisors when Internet booking was in its infancy, Dickinson told her: “‘We will always have travel professionals. We cannot survive without them.'”
The Masterminds panel also included Todd Hamilton, Norwegian Cruise Line’s senior vice president of sales; Kris Endreson, MSC Cruises USA’s vice president of strategic sales; and Anthony Meloro, Royal Caribbean International’s director of business development support and host travel partner relations. The panel was moderated by Sullivan and Danny Genung, CEO of Harr Travel in Redlands, Calif.
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